September 4, 2015
Can Texans Improve on 9-7?
by Bob Hulsey
The lack of a top quarterback seems to have blinded some fans into thinking the Houston Texans won't be very good in 2015, despite having a winning record the previous year and upgrading starting quarterbacks from the year before.
Brian Hoyer was not a world-beater at Cleveland, but he bested signal-callers that were drafted much higher than he was and pulled out wins without a top cast around him. His backup, Ryan Mallett, returns and may eventually be the answer as he matures. Both quarterbacks were understudies to Tom Brady in New England and understand their system.
Houston's bread-and-butter last year was running the football. Arian Foster may miss the first month of the season, but Alfred Blue and Chris Polk have the ability to step in, at least over the short term.
The passing attack will miss the venerable Andre Johnson, but the Texans have decided to surround Hoyer with a group of receiving weapons including DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington and rookie Jaelen Strong. Garrett Graham and C.J. Fiedorowicz make up the tight end tandem.
Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown leads a reshuffled front line that includes Ben Jones at center, Derek Newton at right tackle, Brandon Brooks at right guard. When healthy, Xavier Su'a-Filo is expected to be given another opportunity at left guard.
It was the defense that carried the Texans last year and expectations are that it will be even better. All-Everything J.J. Watt gets the headlines, but he'll have massive Vince Wilfolk next to him this year and Jared Crick on the other side to disrupt opposing offenses. A big key will be how well LB's Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney bounce back from injuries. Training camp talk has been positive about both. Whitney Mercilus returns to help the pass rush, and watch for rookie Bernardrick McKinney to have some impact once he takes the field.
The secondary starts with Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson at the corners with first-round pick Kevin Johnson adding to the mix. Former Bronco Rahim Moore and former Texan Quintin Demps add veteran support to the safety rotation.
Texas Aggies Randy Bullock and Shane Lechler share the kicking duties. Chandler Worthy is making a run at becoming the kick returner altough Keyshawn Martin might keep his job.
This will be the second year for Bill O'Brien as Head Coach and Romeo Crennel at Defensive Coordinator. Players are enthused that they are getting to see more of the playbook and more schemes this year to build onto what they learned last season.
The schedule plays to Houston's favor in 2015. The tepid NFC South (at Carolina, at Atlanta, hosting Tampa Bay and New Orleans) will be a big chunk of the early schedule although the Saints come marching in after Thanksgiving. Home-and-homes against Tennessee and Jacksonville also offer the promise of four victories. That leaves four games against the AFC East (at Miami, at Buffalo, home to the Jets and New England), a home-and-home with Division Champ Indianapolis, and a pair with conference foes (home to Kansas City for the season opener and a Monday Nighter at Cincinnati) to round out the schedule.
Even if Houston loses to the Patriots, Bengals, and both games to the Colts, there's 12 winnable games left on the schedule. If the Texans take 10 of them, that's a 10-6 record and a possible wild card spot on the horizon. Winning the division is always the first goal but, even without it, a playoff season is not out of reach.
Strangely, a team coming off a winning season with perhaps the NFL's most marketable player is making just two prime time appearances. There's a Thursday night October home game against the Colts and the aforementioned Monday Night game in November. The rest are slated as high noon Sunday kickoffs.
The defense should keep the Texans in most games this year. The question will be whether Hoyer or Mallett can muster enough offensive to match their opponents.
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